Few civic issues bring citizens together like Solid Waste Management (SWM). An important component of neighbourhood cleanliness and sanitation, SWM has formed the core of citizen-government partnership in Mumbai.
Repeated governments have tried to stir up citizen participation through SWM. In 1997, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) formalised the creation of citizen groups called Advanced Locality Management (ALM) in an attempt to involve citizens in neighbourhood cleanliness.
Most recently, Swachh Survekshan, part of the Swachh Bharat Mission, ranks cities across the country in categories of cleanliness and sanitation on four parameters, one of which is citizen feedback. The SBM guidelines also require municipalities and municipal corporations to induce citizen participation. But Mumbai has been a consistent poor performer. This year, it ranked 35th nationwide (out of 47 cities with a population over 10 lakh).
Despite a history of civic groups through ALMs, public interest and participation in neighbourhood cleanliness has been inconsistent. But born as a way to assist BMC with solid waste management, ALMs have enhanced civic participation in the city by raising a variety of local issues from potholes to beautification.
History of ALMs
In the mid 1990s, residents of Ghatkopar’s Joshi lane complained of irregular waste collection. They approached BMC’s local ward officer and held a series of meetings about managing solid waste on their street. The interaction allowed for the creation of “a street committee”, which would assist BMC in waste collection.
Around the same time, BMC had a restricted staffing policy to cut down its expenditure. When BMC saw citizen interest in waste management and emulating the efforts made by Joshi lane residents, they developed an alternative strategy to expand services. The solid waste management department began to work directly with resident groups in neighbourhoods across the city by creating ALMs.
BMC formalised the initiative and appointed an Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to create awareness which encouraged the creation of more ALMs across the city.
Bandra-resident Shyama Kulkarni and trustee of an NGO called AGNI recounts how she invited her neighbours to her house for a cup of tea and discussed setting up an ALM in her neighbourhood. They registered the ALM with the BMC ward officer and proceeded to take on a variety of local issues. One of which, she says, was collecting money to appoint a watchman who could prevent unlicensed street vendors from setting shop on their road.
A number of ALMs were registered across the city in the early 2000s.
The number was above 1000, according to a study, but formation of ALMs wasn’t a citywide phenomena. Their presence was much stronger in some administrative wards than in others – such as the higher-income wards (e.g. K–west and H–west.
What do ALMs do?
In 2005, researchers Baud and Navtej studied 60 ALMs across Mumbai and found that while solid waste management was their primary activity, ALMs had also undertaken other activities. 35 ALMs were performing park/street beautification, 26 were involved in activities related to sewerage management and 12 were engaged in water management (dealing with leaking water pipes and water shortages, awareness campaigns), according to their study.
But this expansion of ALMs activities has not gone well with the BMC. A recent study on ALM quotes an interview with an ex-officer on special duty who said that if (ALMs) “don’t comply with the primary goal” of solid waste management “but argue on other issues, they can’t call themselves an ALM”. Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta also decided to deregister ALMs that did not conduct waste management activities, but his successor Praveen Pardeshi overturned the order. BMC’s manual on ALM, however, lists solid waste management as ALM’s raison d’être. Of the 10 responsibilities mentioned, six are about solid waste management.
Responsibilities of an ALM
- Create awareness for segregation of waste at source and prevent littering and spitting.
- Create awareness of waste collection system in the ALM Locality.
- Storage of waste in separate bins (for wet & dry). As far as possible, treat the biodegradable waste by composting / vermi-culture in your own locality.
- Dry waste may be disposed through the MCGM vehicle once or twice a week, on fixed days, with prior information to ALM.
- Rag-pickers of the locality to collect dry waste and keep non-recyclable waste for MCGM vehicle.
- Debris to be kept by the generator in the premise and disposed in the designated specified area by MCGM through private contractor.
- Take up the beautification of the entire ALM area with prior permission in co-ordination with MCGM.
- Local Civic Issues (L.C.I) pertaining to storm water drain, sewage line, water, Pest Control, illegal encroachments, hawkers, posters, utility services, and road.
- Attend monthly ALM meeting at AHS/AE (SWM) level and bi-monthly meetings at Asst. Commissioner level conducted at the Ward Office, to discuss your L.C.I / action taken.
- ALM Committee should maintain ALM register to record the L.C.I / action taken along with suggestions.
How to setup an ALM:
- Organize meeting of residents from the concerned neighborhood for better management of services in the locality.
- Approach the concerned Ward Office and meet the AHS/ AE (SWM) for information and support regarding the ALM concept and the process for the formation of the ALM.
- Seek advice from the concerned ALM officer about the concept of the ALM through public meeting.
- Select members of ALM COMMITTEE one from every building / chawl, in your lane / street / neighborhood.
- Select the name of your ALM Committee e.g. xxxxxxx ALM COMMITTEE and get it registered in the ward office.
- After ward level registration, you can register the ALM as a Private Trust, Charitable Trust, Society or an Association, but it is not binding by MCGM.
- Apply to your Ward Office in the given Format and get one copy as acknowledged and stamped.
- Take photocopies of the stamped copy and send to the concerned ALM Officer for additional information
ALM and Politics
In their heyday, ALMs acted as a pressure group in Mumbai, acting as a facilitator between middle-class residents and local representatives. ALM groups like the Juhu Citizens Welfare Group lobbied hard in the Vote Mumbai Campaign with the state government to carry out systemic reforms in governance during the municipal polls of 2007, according to a study. There has also been a constant conflict between ALMs and councillors who saw that ALMs were working directly with the BMC and sidelining them. Councillors believed that they were better positioned to tackle issues in the area, whereas ALM members “cannot think beyond their lanes”.
ALMs are also accused of middle-class activism and creating structures and processes that exclude low-income residents of the city. People from slums, for example, are not members of ALMs, neither might they have the time needed to volunteer their services. Slum representatives have also said that they feel intimidated at ALM meetings, because they are conducted in English and require reading and writing proposals, according to a study.
Shyama Kulkarni of Perry Road ALM agrees that ALMs are made of middle-class members but says that they work with all residents. They are are working with slum residents to ensure that garbage pickup trucks arrive at a time that suits them. They are also working to create municipal markets for rehabilitation of hawkers.
But research overwhelmingly points that through the vehicle of ALMs, middle-class activists have claimed more public space and service delivery for themselves on a priority basis.
What are ALMs doing now?
A recent study looked at four active ALMs in Mumbai: N Dutta Marg Environmental Group in K West (Andheri West) ward, Little Gibbs Road 1, 2 &3 in D ward (Malabar Hills), Union Park Resident Association in H West (Bandra West) and PestomSagar in M West ward (Deonar). The four ALMs, the study found, is performing the mandatory task of waste segregation along with taking up local issues such as maintenance and adoption of green spaces. In areas where ALMs have managed to work successfully, they have also recorded an improved relationship with the BMC officers, as well as faster grievance redressal.
24 years after they were first formed, Mumbai has about 277 ALMs so far. But not all are active. While some have managed to initiate and enforce practices of segregation and better sanitation, a lot more can be done to ensure that ALMs surpass challenges of legitimacy and exclusion for better government-citizen partnership.